Perfectly Pearly

Perfectly Pearly

Pearls are really pretty, and, although I am not one to wear them, my grandmother is. Besides their obvious beauty, they are considered a valuable gem, and are used often in jewelry. But very little people actually know how they are made.

I for one, can initially only tell you without looking anything up that they are often made when a clam gets a piece of sand in its shell and the pearl develops from there. But there is so much more information than just that. So let’s dive a little deeper into the making of a pearl!

My friend Dhara wrote in her blog post that pearls start forming when an oyster gets hurt. She writes, “When a pearl oyster gets hurt, it forms a “pearl sac” to contain the injury. In this injured area, the oyster creates two proteins called conchin and perlucin which form together a matrix called conchiolin,containing many porous spaces similar to a sponge.” In the porous areas, aragonite crystals are secreted and combine with the conchilin to form the pearly substance. After many layers are formed, it becomes a mature pearl!

One substanc ein particular is important. It is called nacr, and is also called “mother of pearl”. This is the “…naturally-occurring organic/inorganic composite, that is a combination of crystalline and organic substances that form the iridescent inner lining of the shell.” In certain species of mollusk, specialized cells called epithelial cells produce nacre. These are toward the outside, while stratified columnar epithelial cells occur toward the center. The nacre is usually put toward the center of the mollusk, creating a nacerous layer, which smooths the inner wall of the being. This serves as a defense mechanism. 95% of nacre is calcium carbonate (CaCO3). One site writes, “This mixture of brittle nanometer platelets and the thin layers of elastic biopolymers makes the material strong and resilient. Strength and resilience are also likely to be due to adhesion by the “brickwork-like” arrangement of the platelets, which inhibits transverse crack propagation.”

Natural pearls can be made around any substance that gets into the shell, like parasites or food. A pearl is created only when this invader can’t be ejected, and starts encystation in the layers of substances mentioned above. These pearls take many, many years to form due to all the layers.

However, there are two different types of pearls. One is the natural kind I have just described, and the other cultured pearls. The main difference is the thickness of the layers in which the pearl is formed. 2 to 5 years is the average time a good quality pearl takes to make. Lower quality pearls are often made faster by inserting a nucleus and speeding up the development of these layers. however, the layers are thinner, and more brittle. In addition, they aren’t as shiny, and won’t last as long.

Pearls are formed as a defense mechanism for an animal with what looks vulnerable behind their shells. Just think, my grandmother’s pearl necklace just got a whole lot more interesting!


So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!


Hot, Hot, Hot: Spicy Sriracha Sauce

A spicy, garlicky sauce, sriracha is a common condiment used a lot of different foods. But what gives it that specific taste and where does that vibrant color come from?
In the video above, the basic ingredients listed are:

  • vinegar
  • garlic
  • salt
  • sugar
  • Potassium sorbate: prevents mold and yeast within the product and is found in dairy products and wines.
  • Sodium bisulfite: stops the natural browning process when fresh produce is oxidized. This gives it the nice red color.
  • red chili peppers : within the peppers are capsaicinoids, with break up into two more groups: capaicin and dihydrocapsaicin, which make up most the the spice and heat! This “…triggers the TRPV1 receptors protein… which usually respond once the temperature is above 109 degrees F, thus causing the spicy hot sensation,” states the video.  Endorphins are then released. Peppers are part of the Capsicum genus.

However, not all peppers have the same temperature. That is why the Scoville scale was invented, which measures heat with scoville units, from 0 to 16,000,000 scovilles. ( I hope I am spelling that right. It’s abbreviation is SHU.)

Capaicin is extracted from the peppers and mixed in a solution of water and sugar. This is added until a taste tester can’t taste the heat. Every dilution of the sugar and water increases the scale. This has been criticized though, as people can taste to different extents. For example, my mom is more sensitive to heat, while I am not. My dad is even less sensitive than I am.

High performance liquid chromatography is now used, as it is easier and more reliable to give accurate results. This uses American Spice Trade Association Pungency units to measure the heat. One pungency unit is about 1/15 of a SHU.

Sriracha, on the Scoville scale, is from 1000-2500 SHU, while Tabasco sauce can be from 2500-5000 SHU. In retrospect to some peppers, it’s not that hot, but for me, it’s more than enough!

All information came from the video above.

So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!

Cute Cotton Candy Chemistry


I absolutely love cotton candy. Not like. LOVE. If you ever want to bribe me to do something, use cotton candy. Due to my obsession with cotton candy, which I only ever get when I’m at a carnival or zoo, when I read my friend Lindsey’s chemistry post on it, i just had to do one, too!

Cotton candy, as seen in her blog post, is made entirely of sugar! The stuff you put in the cotton candy machine is called floss, or, sometimes, fairy floss! Anyway, Lindsey describes sugar in a really simple way: “Sugar is a carbohydrate. Sucrose is a type of sugar. Sucrose is a chemical used in chemistry. The chemical formula is C12H22O11. Sucrose has 12 Carbon atoms, 22 Hydrogen atoms, and 11 Oxygen atoms.”  Artificial flavoring, along with dye, are also used, and that gives it the trademark pink or blue color.

One other post by another blogger stated his dislike about not having the cotton candy fresh on a stick, and explained more about how it’s made.  “When you pour sugar into the center of a cotton candy machine, the coils inside heat the sugar to its melting point and break the bonds of the constituent molecules. The hydrogen and oxygen atoms rearrange to form water molecules and promptly evaporate, leaving only carbon behind. The carbon burns, and the sugar begins to caramelize.”

I, too, am a fresh cotton candy person myself, as it is more fun and tastes better when fresh from the machine. Once the sugar floss is in the machine, and after the caramelization, the machine continues revolutions (about 60 per second) and the now hot sugar is forced in a circular motion through the machine from tiny holes in the side. These sugar strands turn solid as soon as they are exposed to the cool air around it.

Cotton candy is one of the only delights that is both commonly seen at fairs and carnivals and needs a special machine that allows the magic of fluffy goodness to melt in your mouth.


Yakking About Yawning

Yawning. I’m getting sleepy just thinking about it! But by now, most of you have probably heard that yawns aren’t actually caused by being tired. Or are they?

Yawning, according to one site, is a “…stereotypical reflex characterized by a single deep inhalation (with the mouth open) and stretching of muscles of the jaw and trunk.” Many animals can yawn, as well as humans, and, while the actual process and connection of yawning has never been solved, it has something to do with the brain’s ability to recognize unconscious signals.

People used to believe it was to bring more air when you had little oxygen, but the lungs cannot actually sense the amount of oxygen. In addition, fetuses can yawn, even when their lungs are not ventilated and different parts of the brain control breathing and yawning. People also believe it is when we are bored or tired, but I would be yawning a lot more in some of my classes! 😉  PVN, or paraventricular nucleus, of the hypothalamaus of the brain can cause yawning when there are low oxygen levels, although this is considered unlikely according to one source, as PVN also plays a role in erections, which are not usually from boredom! However, the PVN does contain many chemical messengers like dopamine, glycine, oxycotin, and ACTH, or adrenocorticotropic hormone, which are all yawn-creating agents.

The most recent idea of why we yawn is to cool down the brain, as people reportedly awn more in the winter when the air around them is cold, as opposed to the summer. Yawning is actually contagious, a phenomenon based on the idea that human reactions as a whole are contagious, or have an urge to be copied. Think of monkey see monkey do, or, more relate-able, someone’s infectious laugh! The point, though, is that we empathize, and therefore cretae a connection through this motion, and want to feel that connection. One site writes, “According to 2012 research, yawns are most contagious among the closest of pals. ‘Researchers discovered that the closer you are to someone genetically or emotionally, the more likely it is that you’ll ‘catch’ their yawn,’ HuffPost Science reported. ”

Fun fact: The average yawn is about 6 seconds long, and, during it, the heart rate increases, although results between individuals can vary.

*Bonus: Yawning’s effects are different from just a deep breath. It is often more satisfying, too!*


So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!


Cellphone Science

*Note: The video toward the middle contains some vulgar language. If you are easily offended or do not like/do not want to hear some choice words that are not bleeped out, please do not watch this video. Sorry to those that this inconveniences!*
Pretty much everyone today has some kind of electronic device, whether it’s an iPod, kindle, laptop, or, most commonly phone. My friend has a Windows phone, and, when she drops it, which is often, the battery sometimes falls out.
The battery, which you can take out of phones, is the key to the phones interior design. There are many different kinds of batteries, like zinc-carbon, alkaline, probably the most well-known, and lead-acid. Lithium-ion batteries are what are usually used in cellphones, as they are rechargeable. A specific combination is lithium cobalt oxide cation and a carbon anode. Zinc-carbon batteries are usually found in the batteries labeled AAA, AA, C, or D. One site writes, “The anode is zinc, the cathode is manganese dioxide, and the electrolyte is ammonium chloride or zinc chloride.” Lead acid batteries are rechargeable, and are usually used in cars. It is often made of lead dioxide and metallic lead, with the electrolyte being a sulfuric acid solution.
Rechargeable batteries are on the rise, especially since they are used in the electronic devices many people use nearly every day. One article states, “Non-rechargeable batteries, or primary cells, and rechargeable batteries, or secondary cells, produce current exactly the same way: through an electrochemical reaction involving an anode, cathode and electrolyte. In a rechargeable battery, however, the reaction is reversible. ” The negative to positive electron energy flow is reversed, and, when the energy is applied to the secondary cell, the cell’s charge is restored.

Cell phones, as most people know, contain radio waves that are transmitted to a tower that can pick up that signal. Radio wave radiation is called electromagnetic radiation. Each phone connects to a base tower. Thousands of base towers around the country can receive signals from around 500m to 30km, based on the surrounding area.
Cellphones use codes, just like computers, to send messages and pictures. The base station is what allows the code to be interrupted and sent to the receiving end. Signals are sent from the base tower to the phone as well, to let your phone know that calls can be made in that area.
Now, this applies no matter what type of phone you have. I myself, and don’t laugh, have a flip phone. Hey, at least you can’t butt dial!
So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!

The Periodic Table of Edible

I thought this idea was absolutely awesome! After all, what better way to learn about the periodic table than to bake it? (And then eat it!) But the periodic table is much more than just a bunch of color coded boxes, or, in this case, cupcakes. The periodic table shows some valuable information, just by the location of elements.

But…I figured cupcakes, and the chemical reactions behind them, where a little more interesting to think about, especially after thinking about those delicious cupcakes! Cupcakes, as you probably know, use a good amount of sugar! One site writes, “Sugar contains amino acids that start the caramelizing process and release a chemical called aldehyde.” This is why some pastries have a brown-ish color.

Both baking powder and baking soda produce carbon dioxide, or CO2, as they are heated up. This is what makes it lighter, as it creates air pockets within the pastry. Baking powder is the better choice if you have both on hand, as it requires less chemicals to balance out the flavor. Eggs act as a binding agent, and are seen in most baked goods because of this. You can’t exactly eat a cupcake that isn’t holding itself  together! (You’d have a crumbly mess!) Egg whites are made of mostly protein, which then break down once  heat is applied. In addition, they also add an airiness to whatever fluffy edible masterpiece you are making!

The periodic table is important, and, of course, so are baked goods! I would eat Ta and Ra if I could! Which ones would you eat? Comment below!

Jeopardy Jubilee!

Tonight’s final Jeopardy clue was in the category of “The Periodic Table”, 2/5/14.  I immediately said I would have bet it all. I was so ready to go for the clue. Before the clue had even been finished, I hadn’t seen the whole clue, I made my guess. After seeing the rest of the clue, I knew I was right. It was great! 

Here’s the clue: Of the element symbols that don’t match the element’s English name, this element’s symbol is alphabetically 1st.

I got up to Of the element symbols that don’t match the element’s English name, before making my guess. 

Want to know the answer? It’s silver! The chemical symbol is Ag. (Gold is Au, and therefore comes after Ag alphabetically. Ar is most likely next, although that is the symbol for Argon, and doesn’t make sense with the clue) 

Silver’s noble gas configuration is [Kr]5s14d10 The melting point of silver is 961.93°C and the boiling point is 2212°C. Silver is a metal found in group 11 of the periodic table. Silver is [A g]reat (see what I did there) conductor and is often used to make things like solder, electrical contacts and printed circuit boards. One site writes, “Silver is also the best reflector of visible light known, but silver mirrors must be given a protective coating to prevent them from tarnishing.” Silver used to be used to make coins, although copper and other metals are more often used today. Batteries can also be made with silver and zinc. “Sterling silver, an alloy containing 92.5% silver, is used to make silverware, jewelry and other decorative items,” states one article. Most of silver’s salts are toxic, although silver itself is not. This is due to the anions. One site explains, “Exposure to silver (metal and soluble compounds) should not exceed 0.01 mg/M3 (8 hour time-weighted average for a 40 hour week). Silver compounds can be absorbed into the circulatory system, with deposition of reduced silver in body tissues. This may result in argyria, which is characterized by a greyish pigmentation of the skin and mucous membranes. Silver is germicidal and may be used to kill many lower organisms without harm to higher organisms.” Basically, don’t get too close to silver compounds or you will develop argyria, which will make you look weird. 

Silver is used in so many things today, and, without it, I would not have gotten the final Jeopardy clue correct tonight. Thank you silver!


So ta ta for now and I hope to see your chemical reaction soon!